LEOPARD DISTRIBUTION IN POST-WAR AREA
The Leopard Project has now launched survey work in the post-war areas of the North and Eastern districts. Due to the ongoing civil war (1983-2009) access to the north eastern jungles – the Wanni jungles and other forest tracts – some of Sri Lanka’s last remaining primary forests were hindered. As such distribution, status and ecological information from these areas were limited.
As the war has now come to an end and as land mine clearing, resettlement and access to these areas become possible WWCT’s Leopard Project has launched survey work here to try and understand baseline information such as simple presence/absence of leopards, habitat status and human wildlife coexistence trends.
It is hoped that once areas are fully de-mined and as life gradually returns to normal in these districts more intense ground surveys can be conducted in order to obtain in depth knowledge of the leopard population here.
Although remaining as elusive as many of the other leopard populations living in the rest of Sri Lanka, our survey data is showing their presence within the Vavuniya, Vavunikulam, Madhu road, Giant’s tank, Mankulam, Mallavi and Padawiya area dry zone forests. This was expected and hoped for as large tracts of forest still survive in these regions. It is heartening therefore to have this confirmed.
Human Wildlife Coexistence
During the peak of war, most people were forced to settle in the Vavuniya district due to the nature of the guerilla style war. Villages from the Kalmadu, Mallavi, Mankulam area had been moved further to North-eastern parts by the LTTE. Also those in the Madhu road sanctuary area and the some parts of Mannar district were moved up to the north east side.
In the last five years many border forest villages were abandoned and human settlement was curtailed; small scale cattle farms and homesteads were abandoned as they were moved into several LTTE controlled areas, relinquishing their lands. The cattle therefore had become feral moving into the wilderness areas around the now abandoned villages. It is possible that these cattle were then incorporated into the diet of the leopards of the area.
As post-war resettlement occurs, cattle are being rounded up and cattle farms and homesteads re-established. The surround scrub forest dry zone ecosystem is still very much present. As this resettlement occurs we are attempting to understand the level of, and if indeed any, continued preying of domestic/feral cattle is occurring. There have been instances of both cattle killed as well as leopards trapped and killed.
By the middle of the year the region dries up with July being extremely hot. However as the old irrigation systems are repaired and reappear the situation is much better for the paddy cultivated lands. The wildlife existing in the region are restricted to wilderness areas surrounding the villages. People are however now clearing these jungles using manual and mechanical methods so as to establish their homesteads. As many livelihood assistance schemes get created by the many aid organizations in the area the issue of over clearing is also very possible.
Like the Wanni Jungles, the Padawiya area has similar dry zone habitats. From Medawachchiya on the A9 it is approximately 57.5 kilometers by road to Padawiya. A large sanctuary under the Department of Wildlife Conservation -Padawiya sanctuary – still exists today.
There are small villages scattered around with almost all folk being cattle and paddy farmers; some inland fisher folk are also present. A large tank (reservoir) is situated here with water being supplied to the whole of Padawiya from this reservoir. Good forest cover is still present and wildlife seems to be abundant. We hope that future ground surveys will give an idea of the extent of wildlife and leopard populations.
From our survey interviews it appears that unlike in the Wanni region, the wildlife here remain in the wilderness areas and are less seen in marginal border village areas. Leopards are present in the thick forest and do not appear close to human settlements. As in the Wanni, elephant herds, deer species and other mammals are also present in Padawiya. This area was not as affected by the civil war as the Wanni and more of a status quo exists. As such it also appears that the people are living more in coexistence with wildlife and are witnessing less conflict situations.
Ground surveys, we hope will reveal more information on both the ecology and distribution of the leopards here as well as help clarify human leopard coexistence needs.
The Leopard Project Team – WWCT